On the surface, she had it all. Heidi Roizen was a pioneering businesswoman and venture capitalist who achieved the highest levels of professional and economic success. As co-founder of a Silicon Valley software company in the 1980s, she grew the business to $15 million in revenues and sold it to become a vice president at Apple. She was written up in numerous “who’s who” lists of trailblazing women leaders in the high-tech industry. She married, had children, and threw some of the most popular house parties in town.
One thing she had too much of though, Heidi realized, was body mass. A long hard look in the mirror and a fateful step on the scale changed her life. When she looked for music to help motivate her to meet her new weight-loss goals, nothing was quite doing it for her. No one was producing tunes with an energetic beat and inspiring lyrics. There was only one solution.
Heidi launched her newest venture, SkinnySongs, in 2007, releasing a CD of the same name in December. The lyrics provide just the kind of uplifting messages Heidi had in mind … because she wrote them. With titles like “Skinny Jeans,” “Incredible Shrinking Women,” “Thin!,” and “I’m a Hottie Now,” Heidi is sharing her positive affirmations with the world.
She has gotten top-tier press in the months since launching, appearing on “The Martha Stewart Show,” Oprah’s radio network, and the CBS “Early Show.” She’s also been written up in USA Today and in dozens of other newspapers and blogs.
For the moment, Heidi’s CDs are sold online only. (Links to Amazon and other sellers are on SkinnySongs.com.) Heidi’s coordinating line of on-message shirts is also sold on her Web site.
What we learned from Heidi: You have to learn to accept criticism. You can’t take it personally. Understand that not everyone is going to love your product as much as you do. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or you’ve created a bad product.
From Corner Office to Home Office
“In some ways, SkinnySongs is remarkably similar to my work in venture capitalism. I’m in business and I think about inventory and marketing, retail sales, and the overall development of my company. Even the medium is the same. Then as now, I’m selling CDs.”
“The biggest difference is that now I’m a small business. Before, I dealt with big numbers and had a support staff. Now I’m doing it all. I may be negotiating my appearance on Martha Stewart, then hang up the phone and go run boxes to FedEx. As a venture capitalist, you may work with a product that you yourself would never use. But SkinnySongs is very personal and I’m very passionate about it.”
Consumer Marketing 101
“It’s new for me to be marketing a consumer product. I’ve discovered that it’s a lot more than sending out a press release. For the first time, I’m in a TV and music environment. It’s now all about commercials, TV shows, radio play, talk radio, and the Internet, both as a place for consumers to buy and a media outlet for publicity. I’m all grassroots-oriented now. Most of our marketing money is spent on outreach to emerging and traditional media.”
In Tune With the Biz
“I was totally new to the music industry. I compensated by finding people who believed in my vision but had better music skills. Enlisting the right talent and finding the right co-conspirators was absolutely critical. SkinnySongs’ lyrics had to be delivered in a musical package that sounded just as good as pop songs on Top 40 radio. That’s why I had to camp on the doorsteps, at least figuratively, of top producers like George Daly and David Malloy. David has dozens of awards and has worked for country greats such as Reba McEntire, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and Tanya Tucker. George is CEO of About Records and has over two decades of experience as a senior executive at the major record labels. He discovered the Cars, the Tubes, and Vanessa Carlton.”
No Is Not an Answer
“I met George through mutual friends in the San Francisco area. Then through George I met David. The two of them had worked together many times in the past. The trick was convincing them to lend their talents and their reputations to my project. I recruited them to take a share of the proceeds. I’m not paying them, which means if it’s not successful, they don’t make any money either.”
She Writes the Songs
“The lyrics were something I really wanted and they didn’t exist, so I had to invent them. Weight-loss is a huge industry and music is a huge industry. There had never been a combination where the lyrics matched. I wrote the lyrics to motivate myself, but it’s more than that. It’s not just about your weight, diet, and fitness program. It’s about keeping your head in the right space for whatever goal you’re pursuing and whatever path you’re taking. You have to acknowledge and deal with emotional eating issues. You have to see and change your lifestyle, which is hard.”
“Writing the songs was a form of creative expression for me and it also allowed me to flex my entrepreneurial muscle. I was approaching my 50th birthday and doing a self-assessment. The writing process became my path to address a lot of issues going on in my life at the same time. I listen to my music every day. I enjoy it. It still motivates me.”
“I’ve lost over 30 pounds. Actually, I’ve lost 40 pounds of fat and gained almost 10 pounds of muscle. Even if I don’t make SkinnySongs into a financial success, it is a personal success for me. I’m healthier now at 50 than I was at 40. But there are other success stories coming in all the time—we post them as testimonials on our home page.”
The Skinny on “Skinny”
“I chose to use the word ‘skinny’ because it was distinctive and yet a bit controversial, which you need to build up awareness. More importantly, I like the idea of the other meaning of ‘skinny,’ as in ‘give me the skinny, tell me the truth about this.’ My songs are very honest and very personal, so they are not for everyone. Luckily, a lot of other women feel the same way I feel, so what worked for me is working for them, too. I went from 190 pounds and a size 14 to 158 pounds and a size 8, so no one is going to accuse me of actually being skinny! It’s all about feeling great about yourself, feeling healthy, and feeling like you are the best you can be.”
A Unique Idea Gets …
“I knew SkinnySongs was a very big idea. I also knew that the theme of someone who had achieved success in one career suddenly doing a 180 and starting something new, especially at the tender age of almost 50, was another topic of current interest.”
… Lots of Great Press
“From my past work as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I had many contacts in the press. So I pitched the idea to a few of my journalist friends. One, a writer at Forbes, did the first article and really launched me. That piece gave me credibility to approach health and fitness editors and general interest media, where my contacts were not so strong. I got help through two PR firms, Fifteen Minutes, out of Los Angeles, and Kelly Fogelman Group, out of Marin.”
The Bottom Line
“I will be cash-flow-positive by June, but I don’t expect to pay my startup investment back until later in the year. I watch the budget very carefully with regard to expenses; I travel coach and stay in cheap hotels—that entrepreneurial spirit. However, where I didn’t scrimp was in talent, the production of the CD, and the quality of the graphics and Web site.”
Costs in Perspective
“Relative to a guy recording in his spare bedroom on his Mac, my costs are high. Relative to a record label, my costs are low. World headquarters is my house and I don’t have any employees. I do have some fellow entrepreneurs in a consulting capacity helping me with legal, sales, accounting, and PR.”
“One, there are free ways to do everything. It sometimes takes longer and requires more elbow grease, but it can be done. Two, find others to do it with you. Figure out what talent you need and how you can get the talent to share in the risk and reward, without necessarily paying them market rate. Three, it’s sometimes better to think small than big. Figure out exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and how big a step you need to take.”
Corporate Exit Strategy
“When you leave the corporate world, have a realistic business plan and stick to it. Do what’s comfortable. Don’t risk something you can’t afford to lose. You may have to build up your savings and work on your business at night when you come home from your other job. Be very scrappy about how you do things.”
Boss Yourself Around
“I had to learn to cordon off time to proactively move my goals forward, not just work reactively. Working from home, I found that there’s always an infinite amount of work to do. I had to learn to put a box around it and step away to spend time with my family, exercise, and those kinds of things. Especially when you’re a one-person start-up, if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. There’s a lot of self-generated pressure on entrepreneurs.”
This Featured Lady was profiled by Andrea Adleman, a Los Angeles freelance journalist.